Photo courtesy of Ava Paige Music
It had been close to a year since I last sat down to interview teen singer/songwriter Ava Paige and we had discussed doing an update soon. That was probably somewhere in June of this year. Paige was excited to give me the details on all the new things happening in her career and I was more than happy to hear about them. We never got the interview scheduled before her whole world stopped.
In late June, Paige was on the road, entertaining the kids at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas when she became ill. She hadn’t been feeling right in the weeks prior, but decided she just wasn’t putting enough effort into living a healthy lifestyle. She would start eating better and exercising and she was sure that would solve her problems. It didn’t. At the hospital, after singing to the kids, she felt lightheaded and weak and had trouble walking even the shortest distances. On the flight home to Nashville she experienced a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. It was obvious she needed to get to a doctor.
The next day she saw her pediatrician who ran tests and advised her mom to take her over to The Monroe Carell Jr. Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital because her blood and platelet counts didn’t look good. The pediatrician told them it could be something else, maybe a virus, but there was a chance it could be leukemia, so it was imperative they act fast. The doctor’s suspicions were correct. It was leukemia, a cancer of the blood, but there was some good news. Paige was diagnosed with Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), which can progress rapidly if not treated quickly and aggressively, but most children with ALL are cured after treatment.
There was simply no time to breathe or even think. The diagnosis came on July 1st, and that aggressive treatment began almost immediately with 30 days of inpatient chemo. The initial goal was to reach remission within those first 30 days, and fortunately that goal was met. There were complications along the way, one of the most worrisome being a fungal infection that required ten surgeries on Paige’s nose. She will remain on anti-fungal medications for several years to hopefully keep things in check.
Paige is now back where she belongs, and that’s at home. She is currently undergoing an eight-month chemo infusion program where she goes to the hospital once a week for an infusion and does the rest of her infusions at home, along with chemo pills. After that she’ll move on to a maintenance program. It’s going to be a long road, but it’s a hopeful one. So far, everything is looking good. The way Paige and her mom, Angie Davis, described this type of leukemia to me was to imagine a flower garden being overtaken by weeds. It becomes so overgrown by weeds that eventually you can’t see the flowers you initially planted. Now imagine those flowers as healthy blood cells and the weeds as leukemia cells. You’ll never eradicate every weed in the garden (or every leukemia cell in the blood) without killing off just about everything with chemo and starting over. I say “almost” everything because it’s only actually everything with a bone marrow transplant, which so far, it looks like Paige shouldn’t need, or at least that’s what she hopes and prays for. The fast, difficult and aggressive treatment she had immediately following her diagnosis led her to remission in 30 days. That’s exactly what the doctors wanted and aside from some bumps along the way, everything is going according to plan. While she tires easily and her immune system is weak, she actually looked good to me. She’s not a fan of her chubby cheeks that are the side effects of steroid medications, and she has lost a lot of her hair from the chemo, but overall, her color is good, and she looks like Ava to me. A more fatigued Ava, which can only be expected, but really quite like the Ava I know. As soon as I arrived I told Paige if she felt tired and wanted to stop to just say the word and we would be done.
When I sat down with Paige in her home, we did not talk about her illness first the way I’m writing this. We talked about what else is going on in her life and what had been going on before the leukemia diagnosis brought her world to a screeching halt. It was important to me to let her know that as much as we care about what happens to her medically, we also care about her as a whole person.
I could have excluded the cancer from our interview altogether, but that would have been unrealistic for starters, and there’s something else that I have learned about Ava Paige, she’s wise beyond her years. If I had completely skipped the topic she would have had that figured out right away. Maybe some people her age would have thought I just forgot to mention it or maybe I didn’t think it was that important to include, but not Ava Paige. She would have known I was avoiding it to spare her feelings, and honestly, other than protecting her privacy, that would have been the only reason I would have left it out. She talked quite openly about the subject so I’m including it. I was selective on just what content I would and would not print after listening back to the audio, however.
If anything that was said seemed to be the least bit subject to possible accusations of Think Country trying to “sensationalize” Paige’s illness, I left it out. I believe I told the story, as she told it to me, quite clearly. I also wanted to add that I left the topic of her cancer until the end of the interview because had she become too tired to finish, we would have covered her music and other aspects of her life first, and her illness would have been the only thing we missed. I easily could have published the interview as it was. Promoting the new single was our main objective, and I wanted to get that in above everything else.
Now that you’re up to speed on how Miss Ava Paige is doing health-wise, let me tell you what else is going on with her and there’s some great things! For those of you that have never read my first interview with Paige from back in 2018, I think you should. I’m linking the interview below so you can read it and maybe you should stop right here, read the 2018 interview and then come back and continue on. I think everything will make more sense for you and I’m all about trying to make sense out of a sometimes senseless world. This is one time I can actually do that, take advantage of it.
While most teenagers are obsessing over the latest pop or hip hop artists, Ava Paige is busy writing songs and listening in awe to her own musical heroes, songwriters like Liz Rose (Carrie Underwood “Cry Pretty”, Little Big Town “Girl Crush”, numerous Taylor Swift songs), Lori McKenna (Hunter Hayes “I Want Crazy”, Tim McGraw “Humble and Kind”) and Natalie Hemby (Kacey Musgraves “Rainbow”, Miranda Lambert “Automatic”), because that’s just how she rolls.
This isn’t something that was forced on her by her parents or anyone else. She’s the real deal. Ask her if she’d rather go to a Post Malone arena show or a Nashville hit songwriters’ round and I can tell you exactly which one she’d pick. That was the Ava Paige I first met over a year ago and that’s the same one I know now. That’s how I know she knows what she wants from her life. That’s so rare for someone her age. Did I mention that she’s 15? Let that sink in.
It’s been a while, so I wondered if Paige had the opportunity to finally write with any of the really iconic people on her wish list yet. “I have met, but not written yet.” Paige then told me, off-the-record, that she has since been told by two extremely talented songwriters, they would like to write with her as soon as their schedules get freed up and Paige is feeling better. Really exciting news.
Always adding to her already comprehensive co-write bucket list, Paige gave me a couple names that I wasn’t given last year, so I’m putting them out there. Hopefully, these writers will see this, or someone that knows them will. Maybe, just maybe, we can make a “co-write connection”. “There’s an amazing songwriter named Dustin Christensen. He wrote ‘Love Me or Leave Me Alone’ for Dustin Lynch. He’s definitely one. He’s an absolutely amazing, incredible writer. Killer voice too,” explained Paige.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Christensen
“Chris DeStefano is one too. You probably already have him.” I told her that I didn’t, but I was glad to see she was aiming high. “Go big or go home.” Chris DeStefano is responsible for penning hits such as “That’s My Kind of Night” for Luke Bryan and “Something in the Water” for Carrie Underwood. He’s a Nashville songwriting powerhouse and if he agrees to a co-write with Paige, I’ll be the first one to celebrate with her.
During our last interview, we talked about the challenges of writing songs with older people and whether they were open to sitting down with someone as young as Paige. At the time (Paige was 14) it was a bit of a mixed bag. Some writers were hesitant. They didn’t feel it could work due to generational differences. Others, however, felt quite the opposite. They thought someone so young would bring a brand new perspective to the room, whole new ideas that never would have crossed their minds. They welcomed Paige into their circles and wrote some good songs together. Apparently, between 2018 and 2019, Paige’s reputation as a talented writer began to get around and she was co-writing more and more.
She really hit the jackpot when she was accepted into the Freak Show family at The Local. The Freak Show, a songwriter show, is held every Wednesday at The Local, and run by songwriter Terri Jo Box (Ashley McBryde “American Scandal”, Miranda Lambert “Dear Old Sun”).
While many venues in town won’t allow a minor to play after a certain hour, The Local didn’t have those restrictions, so Paige took a chance and told Terri Jo Box if there was ever an opening at the Freak Show, she would love the opportunity to play. It wasn’t long before another writer couldn’t make a show and Box was calling Paige to fill in. That’s how it all started for Paige.
Image courtesy of The Music Row Freak Show at The Local
It’s a great group to be a part of. Always a quality lineup of singer/songwriters and it was a way to network with good, solid artists while doing what she loves to do. According to Paige, it’s been such a good experience for her. “Once you’re in that group, in the Freak Show family, you’re pretty much a part of it. You meet all these incredible, talented people and it’s a fun group,” related Paige. “They’re very welcoming, aren’t they?,” I asked. “Oh, yeah, very.”
Another thing that sets Paige apart from other artists, many of them years older than her, is her guitar playing. People comment on how skilled she is all the time, and they aren’t just saying that, she’s really good. Why is she such a good player? Could it be that she’s been taking lessons since she was a little girl? That probably helps, but I just came right out with it and asked her.
Paige did her best to explain what it is about her and guitars that work so well. “I don’t know really. I have been playing a long time and I do take it seriously. I absolutely love it, but I just have fun with it, you know? I don’t really know how to describe my playing. My first teacher was bluegrass so it was sort of the simple stuff, but the teacher that I have now, that I’ve had for four or five years, when he teaches me and shows me techniques and songs to learn, it’s all different types. A little bit of blues, a little bit of jazz, a little bit of country, just a mixture of things.”
“Do you ever find yourself making up your own chords and things like that?” “Yeah, I do that, and one of my favorite things to do is alternate tuning, usually when I restring my guitar, but I’ll just find notes that sound good together and just create an alternate tuning and I’ve done multiple songs like that,” Paige said with a smile. I then asked, “Do you ever find anyone at a co-write trying to copy what you’re doing? Has anyone ever asked, ‘Hey, what did you just do there?’ when go to alternate tuning?” Paige replied, “Yeah, that has happened. One of the songs I do alternate tuning on is called ‘You Above All’ and I was in the writer room with friends Riley Bria, Michaela Clarke and Mary Haller, and I started playing it and Riley is an incredible guitar player as well, but he was trying to figure out what I was doing on standard, and I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m kinda all jacked up here. I’ll show you what I’m doing. I just do random tunings and stuff. Some people like it, some people don’t.”
I had mentioned to Paige that one of the songs I had seen her perform live not that long ago at The Local was “Testify Tennessee”. The only known video I could find of it was one that I had taken myself. I thought it was so good and it really showcased how well she played guitar in an acoustic setting. Paige seemed surprised to learn how much I liked it. “That’s an old song, well, compared to a lot of the others.” I was curious to know who else wrote on it and was told Paige’s co-writers were Chad Sellers and Elysse Yulo. It’s a great song and apparently highly underrated. I’m seeking out the video after I finish writing this piece and attaching it. If enough people watch it and like the song maybe it will get another chance at life. Get on Ava Paige’s social media pages and tell her you saw the “Testify Tennessee” video and you think she should record it someday. Maybe we can all be a part of some kind of positive movement for the love of country music. Hey, you never know.
Video courtesy of Bill McClintic, Think Country and YouTube
In talking with Paige a year ago, she said one thing she appreciated about co-writing with older songwriters was the ability to draw from their life experiences in heavy subjects like love, heartbreak and even death. When you’re 14, and live in a stable family, you’re generally fairly limited in a whole lot of serious dramatic issues, but life has its own set of rules and curveballs get thrown when you least expect them, even at teenagers.
In just a few short months, Paige has probably lived through more ups and downs than a good deal of her fellow songwriters, many of them more than twice her age, but I still wondered whether she relies on them for ideas when it comes to songs about love and breakups, that sort of thing. She agreed that her plate is now full of plenty of material when it comes to the harsh realities of life, all of which she’d gladly give back, but she had this to say, “What’s interesting is, unlike other writers who will usually say they grew up writing by themselves and then they moved to Nashville and found out about co-writing, well, I grew up with co-writing, so I’ve always sort of played off the energies of other people in the room. I really enjoy that and that’s where I’m most comfortable, but I’ve absolutely found new ways of writing and getting that information, like looking at a billboard, seeing a sign, social media, my brother has a lot of girlfriend problems so that’s where the major ideas come from. I still play off my co-writers’ experiences because if you get a real story that’s where the meaty side of songwriting is, and with all the sickness and stuff I definitely have a lot of stories to write. I recently wrote one with Bill DiLuigi and Jamey Perrenot and it’s called “Anchor”. That one’s very close to me and captures my experiences.” I mentioned I had seen a video on Facebook of the three of them playing and singing the song and I loved it and thought it was so beautiful. “Thank you, next EP,” replied Paige.
The next thing I did was put Paige totally on the spot. I am taking every ounce of heat for this and I told her I would. She had the most difficult time with this question and I knew she would because she loves everyone so much, especially in light of all that’s happened in recent months, but I did it anyway. I put her in a most impossible fantasy situation. Should she have to go away to a deserted island for one whole year to create as perfect an album as possible, which five co-writers would she take with her? Only five. Imagine the look on her face. “Only five?” I stressed to her to really think it through because she would need to have five people that all had separate strengths musically, but would also have to be able to live with each other for a whole year. I’ll give her this, she did think it out carefully, even though she did want to bring everybody.
“I have a lot of favorite co-writers and I love them all but, of course, Jamey Perrenot. He’s my music uncle basically. We were listing off songs to put on my next EP and he kept listing off songs I’ve written with him because I’ve written so many with him, I’m like, ‘Shameless plug!’, but I love him, he’s incredible. Jeffrey East because I love Jeffrey and every song I’ve written with him I’ve loved. This is hard!” I smiled and said, “I know! It’s like picking your favorite children.” We did start laughing at this point, but I knew she’d get it. I added, “If you think about it, they would all have to be the best at what they do because every track would have to be unskippable.” With that, she started rolling again, “I’d probably have to throw Blue Foley in there. Hmmm… oh, Patrick Dodge, he’s a wonderful songwriter. He’s based out of New York but comes down here a lot. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful person in general. He just has killer phrasing and ideas in general.”
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
She was down to the last one. I kept reminding her that she only had one. No trying to sneak in any extras. No stowaways, no assistants to anybody with diva-like tendencies. Who would make the final cut? She was struggling, but the last man standing was Brian White, the writer, not the artist. “He knows what radio will cling to because he’s been there and done that, plus he’s just an incredible lyricist. Plus, all those people would be fun.”
We came back to reality and I asked Paige to give me the names of five songwriters she has not yet had the opportunity to write with that she would like to, who might actually be willing and able to do that. Not crazy pipe dreams, but people in town that might actually see this interview or have a friend that sees it and contact Paige to set something up. Another Think Country attempt at creating a hit songwriting team. We do our part, no matter how small. Paige did some thinking and starting spilling out names, “Hannah Ellis, Nick Wayne, Robert Counts, Ben Danaher and Thomas Finchum.”
So, the list above? If you are any of those songwriters or if you know them personally, Ava Paige admires your work and would love the chance to write with you someday. She’s only 15, but she’s got some chops and she’s got some pretty talented folks that would back that up. Get in contact with her if you’re interested.
We reached that pivotal moment, we were about to talk about Paige’s new single. I was really thrilled to do that because after all she’s gone through lately, it was cool to have something good happening for her. I know she’s ready for it. “Ava, the new single! Tell me all about it,” I said excitedly.
Image courtesy of Ava Paige Music
“Yes, it’s called ‘Hope Comes In’. It comes out October 11th. I wrote it with Jeffrey East and Bobby Simpson and it’s very special to me. I’m very happy that we’re putting it out. As a single standpoint, this is the first single I’ve released that I think really captures what I sound like, and the sound that we’re going for, so I’m very, very excited to put it out. It’s the craziest thing. We wrote it about a year ago now, I think it was last September, at a songwriting retreat hosted by Sheree Spoltore of Global Songwriters Connection. Jeffrey East was one of the writers that she brought in and it was me, Bobby and Jeffrey, and I’ve written with Jeffrey prior to that, but he’s one of those writers where he has an idea, just a random one, like during breakfast or something, and he’ll just go in a corner and write the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard in your life. So, he had already started this thing and already had a little bit of the melody, and he was like, “I don’t know if you guys are feelin’ this, but this is just something that kind of popped in my head…?” I heard it and I said, “Yes! We’re writing that.” He was like, “When?” I was like, “Right now.” Paige said she loved it and she thought it was beautiful. “So, we started writing and formatting the melody and stuff like that. Now, looking back, it couldn’t have come out at a more appropriate time because back then, like, I felt the lyrics and stuff, but I guess I didn’t really know them and now I know them. Now I’ve lived it. Some of the lines in the chorus are, ‘Life can change when you least expect it to’, and life changed. Now, with everything that went on with the diagnosis and such, it’s become even more so. I said, “I’m sure that Jeffrey and Bobby had no problem saying, ‘Here Ava, this is your single’, right?” “They were definitely supportive of releasing it,” she agreed.
“Hope Comes In” was recorded in Jamey Perrenot’s home studio and I was lucky enough to hear it before the general public, and it really is just gorgeous. I can’t preach it enough. Go get this song. Pre-order it now so you’re the first to hear it on October 11th. It’s so inspirational. Everybody will find a way to relate to it. Paige’s vocals are lovely and they spared nothing to bring in the right players to make it sound exceptional, including Ross Holmes (fiddle), Smith Curry (pedal steel), Jamey Perrenot (guitar) and Matt Butler (cello).
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
Paige got to get her hands on this single more than she ever has before as well. “I got to kind of co-produce this single. I eventually want to go into producing, so it was fun.” It would seem only natural that Paige will enter the producing realm, having worked in the music business from such a young age and seen the inner-workings for so many years, it just feels like a natural progression. I was thrilled to hear that she’s already showing an interest.
I need to send the credit to my neighbor and great friend, Mary Beth Ippich for this one. Somehow, I missed these, but apparently, there were some fun photos going around social media of artists Cheley Tackett, Ashley McBryde and friends in Europe wearing fake mustaches. These photos were tagged “These are for Ava Paige”. Mary Beth wanted to know what that was all about. Since I didn’t see the photos, I had no idea, so I asked. I found out.
Just before Cheley Tackett left for her European tour, she visited Paige in the hospital. At the time, Paige was required to cover her nose due to her fungal infections and surgeries. Finding humor in all of that misery, Paige started making funny nose coverings, a pig nose comes to mind. A friend had stopped by just before Tackett with a bag full of fake mustaches, donations to the funny nose covering cause. Since there were a surplus of the furry disguises, Tackett grabbed one. Paige told her she could have a whole bag, but she’d have to take pictures with them if she took it. She promised she would and she stuck to that promise. She got to Europe and one fine evening (Tackett and McBryde did some show dates together in Amsterdam and Germany) the whole crew donned the mustaches and took photos. Every picture tells a story and that’s a great one.
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
That’s probably a perfect place to wrap this whole thing up, come to think of it. Hospital visits from artists like Tackett kept the darkest days from getting too dark. Other high-profile visitors like Ashley McBryde, Michael Ray, Carly Pearce and Brandy Clark were kind enough to make time in their extremely busy schedules to stop by. These are not things Paige takes lightly. She still finds it hard to believe.
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
She said the other countless songwriters that came by to play and sing made every day more bearable. Some just stopped by to play a song or drop off ice cream or a card. The gifts she received still overwhelm her. I asked if there was anyone she wanted to thank and she said she couldn’t possibly ever single out anyone because the list is so long, but wanted to thank everyone at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, from the people at the front desk to the doctors, for being so kind and so caring every single minute. She said she is so thankful she was there because she knows that’s the reason she is here today. “They’re the best.”
Paige wants to thank every person who called, texted, sent cards, stopped by, gave her a gift, said a prayer, continues to pray for her, sent good vibes, came and sang with her, brought her food, blankets, comfy clothes, and any of the other generous acts of kindness during her hospital stay. She is genuinely grateful. Do you know her family required a U-Haul truck to take home all the gifts she received? That’s an outpouring of love.
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
“I especially want to thank the music community in Nashville. I knew they were amazing, but I just never realized how amazing. I’m still blown away by all of it.” Paige wants to send special thanks to the good folks at The Local, 3rd & Lindsley and The George Jones for their unbelievable support. To anyone who attended any of her benefits, she thanks you, and to everyone involved in organizing and participating in those benefits, a special dose of gratitude. She understands how much work went into them. Just a note, that another benefit, Ava’s Army Breaking Strings Together, is being held on Saturday, October 12th at The Local. Over 50 of Ava Paige’s friends will be featured. If you missed out on the other benefits, this would be a good one to check out.
Image courtesy of Ava Paige Music
It’s been quite a year for Ava Paige. She was making strides musically and then she had her life turned upside down and stalled. She’s taking it slow right now and just trying to get through her treatment, while also trying to remain as healthy as possible during it. She plans to do a little music in between, but only as much as she feels able. At Think Country, we’re all about seeing her well again, no matter how long that takes. Go get her new single. It’s really good and it will definitely brighten her day to see people interested in it. This girl has seen some rough months. She’s excited about releasing new music. It’s a little bit like summer suddenly coming in the middle of a long winter. Throw some sun on Ava Paige and get yourself a song that matters. Everybody wins.
Photo courtesy of Ava Paige
Ava Paige can be found:
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country